Lutein, otherwise known as the vitamin of the eye, is considered as one of the most essential antioxidant nutrients of the eyes. Cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are common ophthalmological diseases as well as major causes of blindness in older ages.
Many studies over the past few decades have examined whether diet can delay the onset of visual impairment or even improve vision. Among the ingredients of the diet, lutein stood out for its important role in eye health.
What is lutein?
Lutein is an antioxidant molecule which is mainly found in the retina of the eyes and it belongs to the carotenoids family. Even if there are too many carotenoids in nature, only a few of them are found in the eyes, like lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein is a powerful antioxidant, as it appears to protect cells and tissues in the eyes, particularly in the macula, from oxidative lesions caused by light.
Sources of lutein
Like other antioxidant compounds, lutein is found in colorful vegetables and fruits such as green leafy vegetables or deep orange and yellow food. Spinach, cabbage or kale, egg yolk, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, corn, citrus and papaya are rich sources of lutein.
Lutein and vision
The antioxidant properties of lutein help fight and prevent damages caused by free radicals. Both sun exposure, blue radiation, poor nutrition, age, as well as diseases such as macular degeneration and cataract are the result of chronic oxidative damage. Adequate lutein intake can slow down or even inhibit the development of vision impairment, even in people who have already to some extend eye lesions.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
There are several epidemiological studies linking lutein supplements with reduced AMD risk. Lutein has an important protective role against AMD, probably through the absorption of harmful blue light, as well as through its antioxidant properties. There is evidence which supports that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of AMD. In fact, in age-related eye disease studies it was found that by taking lutein supplements daily, the risk of developing AMD is significantly reduced. In addition, other studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin improve visual performance and vision in patients who have already experienced AMD or cataract, but even in healthy people with good vision.
The eye lens is responsible for collecting light on the retina and it is constantly exposed to light and oxygen. This exposure results in high levels of oxidation in the eyes. However, in order the eye lens to be able to perform the above function, it should remain clear. Oxidation of the lens is the major cause of cataract, which causes vision loss. That’s why antioxidants, such as lutein, are absolutely necessary to prevent the occurrence of cataract. A recent study has shown that the higher dietary intake of lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin E is associated with a significantly reduced risk of cataract.
The role of lutein against diabetic retinopathy is not as well established as it is in the case of AMD. Even if, in this case, lutein appears to play an important protective role, further epidemiological studies are needed in order to prove the benefit of taking lutein supplements in diabetic retinopathy.
Lutein supplements can increase the levels of lutein in the macula. Since lutein has a synergistic effect with zeaxanthin, usually dietary supplements for the eyes contain both these antioxidant compounds. You can find lutein supplements in capsule or soft-gel form.
The recommended dosage of lutein is between 5-30 mg per day for adults. Lutein is a fat-soluble molecule, so it is recommended to be taken along with meals which contain fat.
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